Saturday, 8 November 2008

Baiting Sarkozy

I think this is a lovely little story. So Sarkozy and Barroso are giving their press conference after the latest little meeting where they've decided to save the world by abolishing freedom.

Yet none of this seemed to have dismayed Mr Sarkozy one bit, as he boasted of how his proposals had received unanimous backing from the 27 member nations of the union at the official summit press conference. Then came the turn of José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, to speak. And Mr Barroso, often rather unfairly portrayed as a poodle to important leaders like the French president, managed to disconcert Mr Sarkozy in an instant. His method: he spoke English.

It was a very odd moment. Mr Barroso speaks many languages: including his native Portuguese, excellent French and English, and a magnificently mangled form of Spanish. But the French presidency of the EU has gone out of its way to stress the French language, in a rather vain attempt to stem the tide of English as the near-automatic working language of the EU institutions. Mr Barroso normally speaks French in such circumstances. But this time, he began by announcing that he would speak English "for the sake of linguistic diversity, and for the protection of minority languages". Why not speak Portuguese, if you want to defend minority languages, snapped Mr Sarkozy, before muttering audibly that French was a minority language nowadays.

To the French president's visible irritation, Mr Barroso went on in English, and on. Mr Sarkozy's English is pretty ropey, but pride (presumably) did not allow him to put in his earpiece to hear a simultaneous translation of what his fellow president was saying.

Two possible reasons suggest themselves for Mr Barroso's linguistic rebellion. He was getting his own back after one too many instances of bullying by Mr Sarkozy. Or, knowing that the summit might feature on international news channels, guessed that if he spoke English, he stood a good chance of being shown on screen, instead of Mr Sarkozy, whose French remarks would need to be dubbed.

Rather "tee hee" no?

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